Last year when I started this blog, I also started keeping track of my reading. This was more for my benefit than anyone else’s; I wanted a record of my progress toward the goal of reading one fiction and one non-fiction book every month. Here’s the recap of 2012. The link at the bottom of this post will take you to the page where I’ve begun tracking my reading in 2013.
Love & Respect (Emerson Eggerichs)
*I had no idea. A subtle fact changed my entire perspective.
State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)
*Shame on you, library patron who recommended this to me. It was a literary wild goose chase. Hours wasted!
Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Laney Salisbury & Aly Sujo)
*What I’m taking away from this book is: the critics are full of hot air. (You knew it, right?) Love what you love and don’t apologize.
Sams Teach Yourself HTML & CSS in 24 Hours (Julie C. Meloni & Michael Morrison)
*Straightforward and thorough. Little did I know CSS customization is a paid-for privilege on WordPress. Oh, well….
Parisian Chic (Ines de la Fressange with Sophie Gachet)
*There’s a post about how much I enjoyed this book.
Throw Out Fifty Things (Gail Blanke)
*Your stuff is linked to your psyche. Good to know, right?
The Bromeliad Trilogy (Terry Pratchett)
*A British man writing about literal-minded nomes [sic] who actually belong on a starship. What’s not to love?
The Language of Flowers (Vanessa Diffenbaugh)
*Emancipated after a lifetime in the foster system, the heroine uses the Victorian language of flowers to give her life structure. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but my attempt at condensing the plot would surely be confusing. I enjoyed this book so much I read it in 2 days.
Inside Out and Back Again (Thanhha Lai)
*Short poems tell the story of Ha’s family’s emigration from Vietnam to Alabama.
Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This (Luke Sullivan)
*About marketing with taste. Very opinionated, but helpful.
The Education of an Old Doc: The Story of My Practice in a Wilderness (Dick Ohmart)
*I have to admit it: I gave up after 34 pages. I liked the idea, but trying to read the jumpy story in short sittings wasn’t working well.
boom (or 70,000 light years) (Mark Haddon)
*A funny English-schoolboys-being-naughty story that involves criminal teachers, brushes with death, and a little bit of outer space. A very fast read.
The Virtuous Consumer (Leslie Garrett)
*You can see what it did to me here. Other than that, it inspired me to investigate make-it-myself home cleaning products, go as paperless as possible around the house (which Tsh Oxenreider describes here), and look suspiciously at all things plastic. But I’m not becoming vegan. (I’d miss butter even more than bacon.)
A Million Suns (Beth Revis)
*Um, hello, most-riveting-series-I’ve-found-in-a-long-time! The first book is Across the Universe. The second book is A Million Suns. The third book is nearly a year from publication (January 2013). So sad. I’ll be waiting…. So far a dictatorial leadership structure has collapsed in surprising ways aboard a ship bound for humanity’s second Earth. And a little bit of falling in love has happened in the midst of the danger and confusion. Can’t wait to see how Revis wraps this one up!
Proust Was a Neuroscientist (Jonah Lehrer)
*Another “abandon ship.” (The last one was Education of an Old Doc in March.) He just kept talking about Walt Whitman…. I couldn’t get past that, mostly because I’m one of those people who has a problem skipping any part of a book. So I skipped the whole thing, which, I realize as I confess it, doesn’t make any sense.
Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
*Lovey has been pestering me to read this since before we even got married. Now that I’ve read it, I can only wonder why I resisted for so long. I could not put down this book! It was so terrible, so fascinating, my mind raced with possibilities until I reached the end. Wow!
The Man Who Ate the 747 (Ben Sherwood)
*I read this when I was a kid. I found it again as an adult. Curious about the accuracy of my memory of this far-fetched plot, I decided to re-read it. Yep; it’s what I recalled: a Nebraska farmer pledges to eat an entire 747 to prove his love for a local woman. A Keeper of Records from the Book of Records complicates the ordeal. Things look grim for a while, but then….
Methland (Nick Reding)
*Intriguing and revolting. Tells about the rise and spread of meth manufacture and addiction, particularly as they relate to the Midwest, with which the drug has come to be associated. As April ends, I’m halfway through this book and not sure I’ll finish, which is why I’m listing it now. So I guess this means I didn’t actually read a whole non-fiction book in April. I should’ve read poetry; it was National Poetry Month! Boo! Oh, well. Next year.
Wildwood Dancing (Juliet Marillier)
*A young-adult novel that panders to the current vampire obsession without being a brainless as Twilight. Yes, I just denounced the Twilight series. Hate me if you must. On a more positive note, Wildwood Dancing balances one plot in the human world with another in the fairy realm, which five sisters discover they can access each Full Moon night. They can access another part of the otherworld at Dark of the Moon…but to reveal more would spoil the story.
Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (Jen Hatmaker)
*She’s fiery; she’s sassy; she’s determined. Jen Hatmaker attacks excesses in seven areas of her life, documenting her successes and failures as encouragement for anyone who might share her rumblings of discontent with the way typical Americans live.
For Women Only (Shaunti Feldhahn)
*A peek into how God made men. Um, HEL-lo! I did not know this stuff. And now I do. I hope it helps me relate to Hubby better.
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (Jennifer Reese)
*All about food and what’s worthwhile, in terms of quality or cost, to make at home. I tried making yogurt. It failed. I didn’t know the temp had to stay around 100 degrees; she said, “Don’t get hung up on the temperature of the warm place. You can just turn the oven on for a few minutes, turn it off, and put the yogurt inside” (pg. 47). For the record, that’s way too vague. Also for the record, I’m inspired to make many more bread products. Croissants? Tortillas? Mmm-hmm.
The Woods (Harlan Coben)
*I didn’t plan to read this book, but once I started I found it impossible to stop. The plot’s pretty dark (murder, rape, family betrayal) but compelling too.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)
*I started to form a vague idea of whodunnit but I never would have guessed the details. Flavia is almost too much, but just amusing enough to be tolerable.
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth (Alexandra Robbins)
*Premise: what makes you stick out like a sore thumb in high school makes you shine like a star in adult life. This book chronicles the senior-year popularity struggles of several teens from diverse areas and with diverse quirks. Robbins also explores the phenomenon of popularity, distinguishing between “perceived popularity” (Mean Girls) and genuine likeability.
The Surrendered Wife (Laura Doyle)
*On the heels of Love and Respect (see January) I’ve been trying to learn more about what respect looks like in practice. This is a great handbook. I don’t think the perspective is Christian–there were a couple points I contended–but overall a very helpful, if against-the-grain, guide to respecting the men in one’s life.
Among the Truthers (Jonathan Kay)
*The moral of the long, detailed story is: we need a college class to teach people what’s factual and what’s fanatical. This book contained plenty of interesting information and descriptions of colorful characters associated with various conspiracy movements in the West. But by the time the conclusion rolled around I wasn’t convinced we should dismiss the “crazies” so coolly. From time to time Kay tore apart a conspiracist argument by saying (and this is completely my summary), ‘They assert X, linking it to such-and-such conspiracy, which actually did have some truth to it…but that doesn’t matter; we still shouldn’t accept their claims.’ I don’t know, I might be more with the conspiracists on this one.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
*It was cervical cancer. I’m sorry, I can barely stand my own pelvic exams; I have no capacity for reading about other people’s.
Leviathan (Scott Westerfield)
*This was a fun read. It was fast-paced–I kept telling myself, “One more chapter…” then reading two or three. My only complaints: the overuse of made-up adjectives got a bit old–but I did like the description “clever-boots” (smart)–and the ending was a mild cliffhanger. After 400+ pages I thought more things would play out, but it’s a trilogy….
The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin)
*I enjoyed several things about this book, but I think my favorite part was the refrain, “Be Gretchen.” I loved the idea that, while some parts of our character require self-discipline, change, and growth, some parts are our essence and can’t be fought. I love the way Gretchen describes her desire to enjoy various idealized recreational activities (Saturdays outside with the kids), types of music (classical), or social conventions (drinking at parties)–and yet finds herself actually enjoying others (reading all afternoon, pop music, sobriety). This fits well with what I’m reading in Jon Acuff’s book Quitter (see below).
Quitter (Jon Acuff)
*I haven’t finished the book (it’s August 14) but I’ve already come across a statement that’s got me really thinking. “I think finding your dream job…is more than a revelation or an act of discovery. I believe it’s a process of recovery” (34). UPDATE: That quotation is still probably my favorite from the whole book, but wow, is there a bunch of other good stuff here! A few examples: the idea that your current drudge job (“day job”) probably requires some of the same skills your dream job will; your day job often allows you to dream bigger–it provides financial security while you build up your dream in a way you never could if the dream was your bread and butter; you will succeed if you are true to your own skillset; your dream will not be fun all the time; you must set limits so you don’t become a slave to your dream (a workaholic). I might have to read this one again, but I am putting into practice some of his advice right away, starting with working on my writing in the morning before my day job begins.
Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely)
*Humans are weirder than I thought (and that’s saying something). But this book exposed that fact in an engaging, relevant way. It wasn’t full of cocktail party chitchat–though I’m sure several of the anecdotes would serve that purpose well. What impressed me was the way Ariely sought to apply each conclusion to daily life, and has even designed at least one product (a “self-control credit card”) that, if accepted into the market place, could allow others to benefit from his findings. Of course, the concept of a self-control credit card already exists…they call it a debit card. But my point is that I like his extension of behavioral economics beyond the academic realm.
Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together (Mark & Grace Driscoll)
*This is one of the most honest and practical Christian marriage books I’ve ever read. I love the idea that nurturing a friendship is the basis for a healthy, lifelong marriage. Thankfully Hubby and I already share a strong friendship and seek to deepen it continually. That gives us a good starting place for discussing some of the other stuff in this book. We’re also looking forward to attending a Real Marriage conference later this fall.
Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian (Scott Douglas)
*I work in a public library so I thought this book would be relatable and hilarious. Actually it was tedious, poorly written, and only mildly amusing. I think it was the meaningless footnotes in the middle of sentences that bothered me the most. Oh, and his enthusiastic repetition of the word “dick” long past the point where it might have been funny. (If you don’t mind bad language and you want something really funny, read “Sh*t My Dad Says.” I cried.) If you read this book, please don’t let it shape your judgment of the library profession.
The Descendants (Kaui Hart Hemmings)
*I liked the complexity of this book’s characters. Teenagers struggle to reconcile love and disgust for their immature parents; a father seeks balance between treating his daughters as adults and actually parenting them; while as a husband he fights rage over a betrayal, ultimately resolving to offer his wife what he imagines she would want the most–the presence of her lover at her deathbed. Nothing is easy in this story. There is no deus ex machina nonsense. The movie flattens out the complexity and quite a bit of the humor, but it’s a decent summary of the main events.
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning)
*Oh, my goodness, this book! It turns rule-bound religion on its head. The focus, the chant, of this book is that we (“ragamuffins”) can’t do anything to earn God’s approval. His love is given freely, and we know that because we know, if we have the proper view of ourselves, that our so-called righteousness could never merit his love. That sounds sort of depressing, but the truth Manning draws out from this state of affairs is that if we haven’t earned God’s love, we can’t “un-earn” it either. It’s not based on what we do or fail to do; it is reliable and steadfast even when we aren’t. This is “the good news” in a way I’ve never heard it, and in a way that I find encouraging and exciting. Please read this book!
All There Is: Love Stories From Storycorps (Dave Isay)
*This was a quick read, and so fun! Each story, condensed from an audio interview, is about three pages long. All of the stories have something special about them, but certain ones were particularly memorable. One of my favorites: a long-distance couple traded cassette tapes with recordings of them doing daily tasks or interviewing strangers. (The man says, “I commuted into Manhattan, and I had a little Walkman, so on those one-hour commutes…I would just interview anybody I saw. I would interview the brakeman on the subway. I’d say, ‘I know this girl in San Francisco I really dig, and I’d like you to say hello to her.'”-Scott Wall & Isabel Sobozinsky-Wall)
Get Real: What Kind of World Are You Buying? (Mara Rockliff)
*Though LOUDLY biased, this book raises some serious ethical issues regarding purchases. The title drew me in; the tone put me off; but the facts sobered me for sure.
Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
*If life were an immersive video game paying homage to the 1980s, this would be the narrative. The adventure raised my pulse; the puzzles baffled me. The fact that I know almost nothing about ’80s pop culture made solving the puzzles impossible, but following Wade through them was fun anyway. The ending was a little too perfect, but hey, I would have been disappointed if it weren’t.
Dilemma (Father Albert Cutié)
*May I suggest the alternate title: “Everything That’s Wrong with Catholicism”? That’s pretty much what this book is about. It’s heartbreaking. It’s sometimes enraging too. People who give their all to the institutional church sometimes find, as Cutié found, that the church isn’t too interested in giving back when its own are in need. I’m glad people like Father Cutié can honestly critique the institution while also suggesting healthy changes. It’s not just a gripe list. And there’s a love story in the middle of it all.
Every Day (David Levithan)
*Teen lit often makes me sigh and roll my eyes. This book, though…. My one complaint is that the story never explains what the narrator is (a spirit? a disembodied personality?) or how “he” inhabits others’ bodies. This is not a spoiler; you’d get this from the front flap of the book. The book does sort of address what happens to the inhabited person, but not in enough detail that I could explain it clearly now.
That said, I don’t think the scientific aspect is meant to be the focus of this story. Instead, the author explores what it would be like to live life in various contexts, using his contrived body-swapper as the explorer. And, this being teen lit and all, of course there’s a love story. “A,” the narrator, pursues Rhiannon even though they both know they can never have a normal relationship.
I thought the introspective passages of this novel were pleasingly mature. I’ve read enough shallow stuff to feel impatient with pure emotional tirades–“I felt like a million knives were being stabbed into my heart” blah, blah, blah; you poor thing, you. This was much quieter, more calculated, and more stirring. Here are a few snatches that stood out to me early in the story:
“There is a part of childhood that is childish, and a part that is sacred. Suddenly we are touching the sacred part…. We have returned to a world that is capable of glistening, and we are wading deeper within it.”
“Kindness connects to who you are, while niceness connects to how you want to be seen.”
If you want all the loose ends tied up, don’t read this, but if you can tolerate a little ambiguity, this is a unique idea unfolded in an intriguing way. I even liked the ending.
Boundaries (Cloud & Townsend)
*I have to read this one again. The first time through I kept rushing, looking for examples I could apply; now I need to go through more slowly with the big picture in mind and think more methodically about the practical side.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Quit Talking (Susan Cain)
*If you think you are an introvert, read this book! If you think you are an extrovert but sometimes resent your full social calendar, you might secretly be an introvert so you should read this book too! The real reason I loved this book was that I felt it authenticated my preferences for quiet spaces, deep conversations, and people who think carefully about life instead of be-bopping around like what Dave Ramsey calls “a party looking for a place to happen.” I have always found social interaction exhausting–some kinds more than others–and after reading this book I felt like I’d been to therapy and had a professional tell me, “There is nothing wrong with you.” And that, my friends and acquaintances, is a wonderful feeling!
The History of Love (Nicole Krauss)
*Two-thirds of the way through this book I stopped and wrote down all the character names and drew arrows across the paper to remind myself of the connections. There were a couple question marks. (How is Zvi Litvinoff connected to Leo Gursky…?) Eventually it all made sense. This book is the most literary one I’ve read in a while, and I was pleased to surrender myself again to the literary delights of tangled, meandering plots; heartbreaking characters; and artfully incomplete sentences. This book, despite its charming name, is melancholy–and yet.
And We Are Changed (Priscilla Shirer)
*The basic idea: if you truly encounter God, your life changes. She gives several biblical examples of what that change looks like while also naming obstacles to change and offering encouragement to overcome those obstacles. I have to go back and re-read this one; I folded a bunch of page corners on my first trip through the book.
Intimate Issues (Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus)
*Frank talk about sex from a biblical perspective. (If you think that sounds stodgy, read this book and be surprised!)
The Last Time I Saw You (Elizabeth Berg)
*I suspected this was going to be shallow, but even so I was disappointed. Most of the characters seem to learn nothing, though one relationship ends in a (sort-of)-happily-ever-after way. Thank goodness it was a quick read so I didn’t waste too much time on it.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair (Nina Sankovitch)
*This book was everything I hoped it would be. A few years after her sister’s early death, Sankovitch copes by setting out to read a book each day for a year. As she reads, she reflects on the connections between her reading and her reality. Her observations touch upon all aspects of life, but always circle back to family and life itself. This book is a sweet intimation, from one reader to many others, of how literature speaks to our deepest hurts and, with our help, heals them.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (Cheryl Strayed)
*I wanted to read this book every spare second, not for the dramatic letters (emails?) sent in but for the thoughtful replies sent back. Strayed never minces words, and uses words my mother would never approve of (fair warning), but the heart of her advice is practical and caring. Several of her replies are variations on the theme “get over yourself,” which, much as it can hurt, can also help.
In Flight Entertainment: Stories (Helen Simpson)
*I read this on our holiday flight. Yes, that is my sense of humor. The short stories were entertaining, but several of them preached about global warming and most of them ended abruptly. One story I truly liked was “Geography Boy.”
Cradle (Patrick Somerville)
*This novel positions dimensional characters in an unusual plot: a young man questing after a cradle his pregnant wife slept in as a child. I was pleased to have my first guess proven wrong as I speculated about how the parallel story lines would converge. I found the outcomes interesting–Somerville gradually reveals more about his characters until the end of the book.
Dance of Anger (Harriet Lerner)
*I devoured this book and took notes–now I need to read it again! I highly recommend this for any woman who feels stuck in a relationship, be it with a family member, co-worker, or friend. Lerner talks about concepts and provides examples, but leaves it to the reader to determine how to apply the knowledge to her own situation.
Color Me Beautiful (Carole Jackson)
*I had a gleeful time discussing this with one of my sisters-in-law at Christmas. I can’t recall where but I read recently that Color Me Beautiful offers still-relevant advice despite its original publication date being 1987. I’ll devote a post to this one eventually, because you have to see it to believe it. I will concede that under the perms and feathered bangs, silk button-ups and ankle-length pencil skirts, there are still nuggets of fashion gold.
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)